The Dangers of Self-Medicating Chronic Headaches
Modern medicine continues to make new discoveries every day. New treatments for cancer, performing surgery with lasers instead of scalpels and preventing illness by new and improved vaccines have helped millions of people. However one aspect of medicine and human biology is the brain. While it only weighs about three pounds according to the University of Washington, the average brain is a mystery of interconnected neurons, chemicals and matter that affect the entire rest of the body. Because the brain is still relatively unknown territory, doctors are still baffled by conditions such as chronic headaches.
What Are Chronic Headaches?
According to an article released in 2012 by the Mayo Clinic, to be diagnosed with chronic headaches, a person must experience headaches 15 or more days during a month for at least three months. These headaches are not the result of another condition (like a thyroid problem or cancer). Chronic headaches are subdivided into categories based on their location and duration.
The four types of chronic headaches include the following:
- Chronic migraine – In addition to the criteria above, a person must experience at least two of the following: 1) Occur on one side of the head; 2) create a throbbing feeling; 3) Cause moderate to severe pain; 4) Get worse with physical activity; 5) Cause vomiting or nausea (or both); and 6) Make you sensitive to light and sound.
- Chronic tension-type headache – These are different than chronic migraines. They hurt on both sides of your head, create the feeling of pressure or compression (not pulsating) and they don’t get worse from physical routine. In addition they cause either sensitivity to light and sound or they cause mild nausea but not both.
- New daily persistent headache – These headaches create the same symptoms as tension-type headaches, but these headaches are constant within the a few days of your first headache.
- Hemicrania continua – These headaches cause pain on only one side of your head, and the pain doesn’t shift sides. They are continuous (no pain-free periods), involve moderate pain that spikes into severe pain and may become severe and develop migraine-like symptoms. The unique features of this headache including tearing or redness of the eye on the headache side, nasal congestion or runny nose and drooping of an eyelid or the constriction of the pupil.
The ongoing, intense pain can be incredibly debilitating and frustrating for the person suffering from chronic headaches. Many times doctors are baffled by these headaches, while others will dismiss a person’s pain or think the person is overreacting. However people with chronic headaches are just desperate to find any kinds of relief if only for a little while.
How People Deal with Chronic Headaches
Seemingly left with no other alternative, people will often self-medicate using prescription painkillers. They may go to several different doctors to acquire multiple prescriptions, pretend to lose their prescription in order to get more, or even use others’ prescriptions all in an effort to find relief. These actions demonstrate a developing dependence.
Prescription painkillers can offer short-term relief for chronic headaches, but they are not intended as an ongoing solution. A person who uses painkillers in ways not prescribed is at an increased risk of becoming dependent on them. Over time the body becomes accustomed to the medicine in the body and will go through physical and emotional withdrawal when not taking the painkillers.
Alternative Ways of Dealing with Headaches
While taking prescription pills to self-medicate chronic headaches for a time, there are inherent dangers in doing so. You risk overdose, addiction and negative side effects. Fortunately there are other, non-drug therapies for curbing chronic headaches.
The University of Arkansas Medical Services suggests the following options for deal chronic headaches:
- Avoid taking daily pain medication – Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can perpetuate headaches, so try to avoid those as much as possible.
- Exercise regularly – This stimulates endorphins in the brain, which suppresses pain.
- Reduce stress where possible – While stress usually doesn’t cause headaches by itself, it can make them worse. When you feel stressed, take action steps to relieve it. Breathe deeply. Meditate. Talk to a friend. Get a massage. Take a hot bath. Exercise.
- Get the right amount of sleep for you – Too little and too much sleep can cause headaches.
- Check your caffeine input – Try tapering caffeine for a few weeks to see if your headaches subside or decrease in frequency. You’ll need to taper off caffeine slowly because quitting suddenly can cause headaches too.
- Check your food and drinks – Aspartame (NutraSweet) can cause headaches in some people. Red wine will cause migraines in many people. Chocolate, nuts, hot dogs and food containing monosodium glutamate (MSG) may also cause headaches.
- Take Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – It helps prevent migraines in many people. Talk with your doctor about the dosage for you.
This is not an all-encompassing list but can provide a starting point for tackling your headaches without turning to prescription drugs. Try them all to find what works for you, and then stick with those.
Getting Help for Your Addiction
If you have been self-medicating to relieve chronic headaches, you may have become dependent on those drugs without even realizing it. We can help you. You can call our toll-free helpline any time, 24 hours a day. We can talk with you about your situation and whether you have become addicted to prescription medication. We can also talk with you about the best treatment option for your unique situation. Many treatment centers specialize in treating concurrent issues like addiction and chronic headaches. Get the relief you need for both your headaches and your addiction. Call us today, and start on the road of recovery.